The 50: Wesley Sneijder (31)’s countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with Oranje and Blancos playmaker, Wesley Sneijder. The gifted and versatile ‘Number 10’ has shown some flashes of brilliance throughout the year, which has been filled with equal amounts of joy and disappointment.

50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970
33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915

31 - Wesley Sneijder – Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 887

All About The Technique

There is hardly a more suited exponent than Wesley Sneijder to continue the legacy that is Total Football. Brought up in Ajax Amsterdam’s acclaimed youth academy, the playmaker is the prime example of a modern complete footballer, blessed with the kind of sublime technique perfected by famous past Dutch masters.

Sneijder is a player who can slot in seamlessly anywhere across the midfield and perform a diverse array of roles. He has tremendous vision and a great passing range; he’s not afraid to get dirty and challenge for balls to win possession on his own; and although he is not a renowned dribbler, he is fast and strong on the ball, making him a huge threat outside opposition penalty boxes.  

A set-piece specialist who is comfortable playing with both feet, he has scored his fair share of humdingers from direct free-kicks and from long range. Just queue the Euro 2008 highlights reel.

Wonder Goals

The Netherlands made a stellar start to the summer tournament in Austria-Switzerland. They scored seven goals against the two teams who contested the World Cup final in Germany just two years prior, Italy and France, and Sneijder was voted Man of the Match in both games.

And the goal that he scored in the mind-blowing 4-1 win against Les Bleus was officially selected as the best goal of the championships, and a perfect case study of just how deadly he can be outside the box.

Picking up a pass from Robin van Persie 20 yards out with his back to goal, he spun away from his marker onto his right foot and unleashed a curling thunderbolt between two defenders right on the apex of the ‘D’, rocketing his shot straight to the top of the goal. The strike was made all the sweeter when the ball kissed the underside of the bar and caressed the back of the net all the way down to the bottom corner, before devilishly rolling back out.

The effort eclipsed the goal he had scored in the 3-1 triumph over Italy in the previous group game when he beat one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Gianluigi Buffon with the deftest of half-volleys from the most impossible of angles. It wasn’t the kind of net-bursting strike, but it was one that illustrated his supreme technique.

But Sneijder and the Dutch team’s rip-roaring displays went unrewarded when their participation in the competition came to a disappointingly premature end after they were knocked out by an Andrei Arshavin-inspired Russia in the quarter finals.

At club level, on the other hand, it was the exact opposite. Sneijder struggled for form and consistency at Real Madrid in the early parts of 2008, despite making a sensational start to his Los Blancos career following a €27 million move from Ajax in August 2007, just two weeks before he turned himself into an instant Bernabeu hero by scoring the winning goal against city rivals, Atletico Madrid, on his league debut.

But the playmaker did rediscover his best towards the end of the 2007/08 campaign as he helped the club capture their 31st Primera Division title, scoring a number of pivotal goals during the home stretch.   

Astonishing Comeback

Sneijder was hoping to carry his majestic form at the Euros back to Real Madrid for the 2008/09 term, but an agonising injury in a pre-season friendly against Arsenal forced him out of action for the opening few games of the campaign with a cruciate ligament damage in his left knee.

But the defiant 24-year-old refused to accept the doctor’s diagnosis that he would be sidelined for up to three months. He adamantly insisted that he would only need two to recover and as per his guarantee, on October 5, 63 days after he suffered the injury, he returned to action when he came on as a substitute in Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Espanyol. His remarkable rehabilitation speed astonished even the club’s own doctors but it endeared him even closer to the Merengues faithful, who were by now all too familiar with miraculous comebacks.

Since his return, however, he has only played two full matches and he has understandably yet to hit his stride. He picked up another injury in late November when he pulled a hamstring in a league game against Getafe, forcing him to end the year on a rather sour note, much like the way he had started it.

Sneijder will be hoping that 2009 brings him a better dose of fortune in the health department. If he can steer clear of any more ailments and maintain peak fitness, Madridistas and Oranje fans can look forward to more dazzling brilliance from the Dutchman, whose best is really yet to come.

2008 Team Honours:

2007/08 Primera Division Champions (Real Madrid)

2008 Individual Honours:

Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament (Netherlands)

Euro 2008 Goal of the Tournament (Netherlands vs France)

Euro 2008 Man of the Match (Netherlands vs Italy, vs France)

KS Leong,